Des Plaines' historic McDonald's still stands -- but not for long

  • With the tops of two golden arches already removed, the replica McDonald's building at 400 Lee St. in Des Plaines sits empty. Officials say they still plan to demolish the structure, but haven't provided a timeline.

      With the tops of two golden arches already removed, the replica McDonald's building at 400 Lee St. in Des Plaines sits empty. Officials say they still plan to demolish the structure, but haven't provided a timeline. Christopher Placek | Staff Photographer

  • A replica building of Ray Kroc's first McDonald's restaurant at 400 Lee St. in Des Plaines has sat quietly since the original road sign was removed in January. But company officials say they still intend to take the building down.

      A replica building of Ray Kroc's first McDonald's restaurant at 400 Lee St. in Des Plaines has sat quietly since the original road sign was removed in January. But company officials say they still intend to take the building down. Christopher Placek | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted7/23/2018 5:30 AM

It's been seven months since crews dismantled the 62-year-old neon road sign of Ray Kroc's original McDonald's in Des Plaines, and stripped the tops of the golden arches and main "McDonald's" sign from the replica restaurant.

The 32-year-old building at 400 Lee St. -- where the former Arlington Heights milkshake machine salesman opened his first franchise store in 1955 -- has sat quietly since then, raising hopes McDonald's leaders may have changed their minds about demolishing it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But company officials recently confirmed they still intend to take it down.

"We still plan to remove the restaurant replica from the site," said McDonald's spokesman Khim Aday, though he declined to say why there's been a delay in the demolition, or provide additional details.

It's also unknown why McDonald's -- through its hired demolition company Heneghan Wrecking -- requested a refund for its $510 demolition permit and $5,000 insurance bond last month from the city. The contractor was issued those documents in January, when work began to disassemble the iconic red sign proclaiming "McDonald's Hamburgers" and "We Have Sold Over 1 Million."

Heneghan Wrecking officials didn't respond to a request for comment.

City demolition permits are generally good for a year, so if demolition activities were to resume, McDonald's would have to reapply and pay the new fees, according to City Manager Mike Bartholomew.

"It's sort of like starting over from scratch," he said.

Bartholomew said he doesn't know why McDonald's didn't finish the job, with his calls and emails to company brass going unanswered. The last communication he had with them was over the winter, when he made a final pitch to preserve the property. Company executives told him they wouldn't donate the site intact, in order to protect the brand.

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"It's really something, given the public attention it got, I thought they would reach out to us and keep us in the loop," Bartholomew said.

After demolition, McDonald's plans to plant grass and donate the land to Des Plaines. City officials still don't have immediate plans for the property.

The replica building sits in an oft-flooded area and the difficulty of maintaining it led McDonald's to its decision to demolish. Serving as a museum of the fast food giant's history, the one-story concrete block building with red and white ceramic tiles sustained flood damage in 2008, 2013 and 2017.

McDonald's planned to preserve the neon sign and other artifacts, such as the restaurant's original 6-foot grill and one of Kroc's Multimixers, somewhere off-site. Some relics of McDonald's early days are on display at the company's new West Loop headquarters, which opened last month.

"Seeing it from the street, it seems it's been stripped of anything of historic value," said Philip Mohr, executive director of the Des Plaines History Center, about the Lee Street site.

History Center officials also haven't talked to anyone at McDonald's since the winter, and don't plan to approach them again, Mohr said.

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